I volunteer at a thrift shop on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg.
Mennonite thrift shops sell donated used items at affordable prices. All the profits from sales go to help needy people around the world through the work of the relief agency Mennonite Central Committee. Most of the staff who work at Mennonite thrift shops are volunteers so the overhead is much lower than at other businesses. Our Selkirk Avenue thrift shop is in a low-income neighborhood. We offer local residents a place to shop for the things they want and need even if they are living on a limited budget. We save lots of items from landing up in garbage dumps and landfills because we provide a way for people to recycle things they aren’t using anymore by donating them to our store.
Mennonite thrift shops were founded by four Manitoba women who opened the first thrift shop in Altona, Manitoba in 1972. Their idea led to the establishment of over a hundred thrift shops all over North America which have raised more than $165 million for the work of Mennonite Central Committee a one hundred year old organization that provides food, education services, agricultural support, and medical help in the name of peace and mercy around the world. Gerry Loewen who was the manager of the thrift shop when I first started working there is the daughter of one of those founders Selma Loewen. Selma was a very close friend of my mother’s. A conversation with Gerry at my parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary celebration got me interested in volunteering at the thrift shop.
I enjoy the friendly people I work with, who come from different faith groups, have different work backgrounds, have lived in different countries, and contribute different gifts to the thrift shop.
I enjoy our customers. Some come in almost every day. We know many of them by name. Customers often share things about their life- their joys and sorrows and concerns. I learn so much from listening to them.
I enjoy working at the cash register, tagging and pricing clothes, putting items out onto the shelves, packaging up the goods people purchase, and cleaning up the shelves and racks. It is a very different kind of work than I did in my careers as a classroom teacher and freelance writer. There is something rewarding and peaceful about completing hands-on, simpler, and more routine tasks.
I am following in a family tradition by working at the thrift shop. Both my mother and mother-in-law volunteered for many years at thrift shops in their home communities. Till he was nearly 90 my Dad worked three days a week at a thrift shop in the Kildonan area of Winnipeg.
Sarah Klassen, a well-known Canadian writer, has set several scenes in her novel The Wittenbergs in the thrift shop on Selkirk Avenue where I volunteer. A woman in the novel has been struggling with a lack of purpose and self-esteem. Her work at the thrift shop makes her feel useful and helps her turn her life around. It changes her.
A thrift shop is a place where lives are changed- the lives of shoppers, volunteers, and the people around the world who ultimately benefit from the resources and opportunities they receive through the Mennonite Central Committee.
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